Living Here or "There"
I have read enough why living in Nicaragua sucks posts in the last few months that I think it is time for me to explain why, for me, it
does not. Even my Grumpy Day post seems to have been mis-interpreted. So, here is my story.
I live in the Tisey reserve. My closest neighbor is about 300 meters away. With the exception of my creative Internet connection (creative because I had to get it to my house, not because it is illegal/unauthorized), I have little dependence on the outside world.
I have lived in Latin America for over 10 years, over eight in Nicaragua. For me, my quality of life is higher here than anywhere else I have lived. That's because Nicaragua has allowed me to live the way I want without getting in my way. That doesn't mean everything is perfect—it just means that on average, things are better—a lot better—than anywhere else I have lived.
Before you think I am writing a general Nicaragua sales pitch, I am not. Just like my rural lifestyle is not for everyone, neither is Nicaragua. Over the past 8+ years I have talked to lots of people about living here. I have told quite a few that Nicaragua is probably not right for them.
In that group, the most common problem is the group of person who think a government should be their nanny. To take but one example, look at public transit. Overloaded buses are the norm. While injuries per mile seem very low, it is not because the government is there making sure the buses have good tires, everyone is properly seated and such. You, the consumer, get to pick whether you are okay with how public transit works. If you don't like it, don't use it or get together with your neighbors to improve it.
When a couple of NL members were here last month one of them suggested Granada was a nice place because of restaurants with good food. I have never been to Granada but I like good food. While I have learned things in some good restaurants with Cafe Flora in Seattle being pretty much at the top of my list, I generally see good food as something I prepare at home, possibly with friends helping.
The biggest problem I have with food here is adjusting to what is available locally to prepare food. That is one of the reasons I am growing food—it is what I want, grown organically and available by walking 10 meters. It then becomes more of an issue of how to prepare what I would have made with apples in Washington state when I only have papayas, mangos, guavas, bananas, ...
Another suggestion was the it is boring to live in the country. I never felt that way when I lived in rural Washington state. I have always been pretty self-entertaining. That is, give me clean air along with peace and quiet and I will find lots of things to do that I want to do. I can assure you that going to malls, standing in lines and buying new clothing are not on my list. Also not on my list is working from 8 to 5. Being in the country, working from home, gives me that flexibilty that I got used to starting 30 years ago.
For those who don't see how being self-entertaining is possible, I highly recommend the play Idioglossia by Mark Handley. It was the basis for the movie Nell but with a big difference. In the play, there was no happy Hollywood ending. What there was was a real explanation of how city folk miss all that is happening/is interesting in the country.
Out of context
I had a grumpy day because I was out of my standard context. Normally, I am in Estelí about once every two months. Unless I need to pick up something big, I take the bus there. While it is more time, it is more interesting and less stress. Let's look at why I say that.
- My two bus options are either walk for 20 minutes and take a 1.6 hour bus trip or walk for one hour and take a one hour bus trip. Thus, same amount of time and same cost. I usually opt for more walking/less bus time because I tend to meet more interesting people.
- When I lived in El Rosario (about 2km north of the center of the city) I would usually walk into the center of town. But, I would do it in the early morning so I was not in the city when it was too hot or too crowded.
- Even if I drive to town, I park my truck in one location and walk to my various destinations. Like all so many cities I have lived in, it is not fun to drive in Estelí. But, walking is easy and, if you need a ride, Urbanos (local buses) and taxis are cheap and plentiful.
- While I would rather produce all my food, that is not the case. But, my wife actually likes to go to town. So, she buys the stuff we need. If there is a lot it, it gets tossed in a big sack and put on the bus. If it is heavy, one of the local kids takes a horse to the bus stop to pick it up. Other times, Ana's mother will buy stuff in town and put it on the bus for us.
- For big loads such as construction materials, renting a truck with driver and one or more helpers is inexpensive, and means you don't have to deal with loading and unloading.
- If I need something that is not available in Nicaragua, I buy it on-line. Small/easy-to-deal-with items are mailed from my private mailbox in Texas. Problem items, for example ones which require a TELCOR permit, I send through TransExpress who actually seems to finally have their act together.
Why is the bus interesting?
When I lived in El Rosario and walked my dog every morning, I met a lot of people. It was good Nicaraguan Spanish/Nicaraguan culture practice. While I walk when in Estelí, being there during business hours and having to get one or two months worth of errands done before the bus leaves doesn't offer a good time for interaction. But, walking to/being on the bus does.
As an example, when I got to Rancho Don Luis (where I walk to to catch the San Nicolas to Estelí bus) there were half a dozen high school kids waiting to catch the other bus into San Nicolas. When I got close they looked up and I asked if they were there for my English class? They said yes and we all had fun chatting in Spanglish.
On the bus there are also lots of opportunities to study people. I have met some interesting folks, learned things about the area/my neighbors and generally been pretty entertained on the bus. No, I don't want to do it every day or even every week but it is good compensation for having to spend half the day in a city.
Should you move to Nicaragua?
My feeling is that if you want to live in Nicaragua, you should. But that is quite different from the typical reasons I hear which include:
- It's cheaper to live there.
- The weather is nice.
- I like coffee/mangos/avocados/... and it grows there.
- There are good restaurants, available women, Viagra, ... there.
- I could afford to live in a gated community.
In addition, if you want to live in a city, live in a city. If you want the things that a city offers you probably need to live in Managua. Having grown up in Los Angeles California, the only real down-side I see with Managua is the climate. If you like cities with restaurants, bars, nightlife and even nice neighborhoods, Managua has it. And as sucky as the climate is, it is better than most US cities most of the year.
If you like making your own decisions, Nicaragua is going to have a lot of appeal over the major police states of the first world and even the smaller countries such as Costa Rica which seem to want to grow up to be a police state. As an example of what I mean, the last time I flew from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, I had to take my shoes off. Even in Mexico City, the police state treatment was only for people boarding flights to the US.
Here are some freedoms I have here that are not available in many places.
- I can buy/trade with my neighbor to get real eggs, raw milk, ...
- I can go to a pharmacy and buy what I want.
- A person who grows vegetables can take the bus to town and sell them on the street.
- I have personal choice in my medical care from free low-end government care on up all at prices that I can actually afford.
- In many cases, that which does not exist can be made with welding being a skill of maybe half the males in the country.
- The police are just people rather than someone to be afraid of.
- While sometimes irritating, a lot of regulation is up for negotiation.
- You can just talk to people and kids can be kids without needing their parents to arrange a play date.
- While dealing with Aduanas (customs) is irritating, import duties are a major source of government revenue. Compare dealing with this to dealing with the tens of taxes you pay in most First World countries.
Perfect? No. But we quickly forget all the things that we used to have to do that are no longer required once we live here.